EU citizenship cannot be traded as a commodity, according to a majority of speakers, who want to end the “golden passports” schemes currently in place in some member states. #eudebates #passports #GoldenVisas #Visas #Cyprus #Malta #Bulgaria
Cyprus, Malta, and Bulgaria are the three EU countries where it is possible to get citizenship in exchange for an investment, the so-called “golden passports”. As many as 19 EU countries operate “residence by investment” programmes, known as “golden visas”.
In a plenary debate with Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders, MEPs stressed the inherent risks that these programmes give rise to, namely money laundering, tax evasion and corruption. They insisted that Europe must not have “a fast-track entrance for criminals”.
MEPs underlined that granting EU citizenship to third-country nationals without proper checks and transparency has negative consequences in other member states, eroding mutual trust and undermining common values.
Several speakers referred to the recent scandal in Cyprus, where high-ranking officials – including the Speaker of the national parliament – were secretly recorded offering to assist a fictional Chinese executive with a criminal record in getting a Cypriot passport through the national “citizenship by investment” scheme. They also acknowledge the Commission’s decision to open infringement procedures against Cyprus and Malta, though some complained that it has taken too long to act.
Some MEPs noted that the share of revenues from these programmes is significant for countries such as Cyprus, whilst many argued that EU values and rights should not be for sale.
In January 2019, the European Commission established a group of experts with representatives from all EU member states to develop common standards and guidelines in this area. After four meetings last year, the group has so far not met in 2020.
The European Commission has decided to launch infringement procedures against two member states regarding their investor citizenship schemes also referred to as “golden passport” schemes.
By issuing letters of formal notice to Cyprus and Malta, the Commission considers that the granting by these member states of their nationality in exchange for a pre-determined payment or investment and without a genuine link with them is not compatible with the principles of the EU treaty.
The Commission is also writing to Bulgaria to highlight its concerns regarding an investor citizenship scheme operated by that member State and requesting further details (20 October).
Due to the nature of EU citizenship, such schemes have implications for the EU as a whole. When a member state awards nationality, the person concerned automatically becomes an EU citizen and enjoys all rights linked to this status, such as the right to move, reside and work freely within the EU, or the right to vote in municipal elections as well as elections to the European Parliament.
As a consequence, the effects of investor citizenship schemes are neither limited to the member states operating them, nor are they neutral with regard to other member states and the EU as a whole and undermines the essence of EU citizenship.
The Cypriot and Maltese governments have two months to reply to the letters of formal notice. If the replies are not satisfactory, the Commission may issue a Reasoned Opinion in this matter.
The conditions for obtaining and forfeiting national citizenship are regulated by the national law of each member state, subject to due respect for EU law. Until now, the Commission has been reluctant to interfere in the sales of passports by certain member states.
A study in 2018 showed that, in one or another form, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Portugal, United Kingdom and candidate country Montenegro have all offered Golden Visa schemes with investments ranging from €250,000 to €10 million.
“This is an important and overdue step in the fight against money laundering and corruption in Europe,” commented MEP Sven Giegold (Greens/EFA). “Malta and Cyprus have been a security blackspot in Europe by allowing the sale of passports to criminals, corrupt and money launderers from all over the world.”
Rachel Owens, Head of EU Office at Global Witness, said that, ”Countless news stories and NGO investigations have sounded the alarm over the use of schemes by the criminal and corrupt to buy access to Europe”.
“Whilst appearing to agree with those warnings, the European Commission was slow to properly crackdown on golden visas. It is therefore music to our ears to see the EU finally taking concrete action against two countries whose schemes pose the highest risk.”